Science of Reading: Being a Good Consumer for Your Class and District

When we, as educators, hear or read the word “consumer” related to education, we cringe and state schools aren’t a business! Agreed. However, let’s step back for a moment and read the definition of the word “consumer.”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a consumer is: one that utilizes economic goods.


two students reading
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

As mentioned in my previous blog, educators have found themselves in a uniquely precarious position as they meet the public outcry to “catch our students up,” “to accelerate their learning,” and “to get them back on track”.  It was my contention that we should look at our data in two ways, through analysis of both foundational literacy (phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency) and comprehension (literal, inferential, evaluative), before we start purchasing products or services.

Dr. Ben Boche, president of the Indiana State Literacy Association, an affiliate of the International Literacy Association, stated in his presentation “Demystifying SoR”:

“We need to step back and look at what’s working in our school/district right now. We need to be good consumers for our students.”  

So how do we “step back and look”?  Of course, my answer, as always, will be data!  We need to look at the data in order to make progressive instructional change. In the On Demand two-part series, “Telling Early Literacy Story in Data,” Brad Ferris and Marsha Gibson assert that multiple data points help us to be objective in determining what our students need.  We need to ask ourselves, “Which of my students need additional help in foundational literacy? Which of my students need additional help in obtaining skills to comprehend deeply? Which of my students need to be challenged to go even farther than they are at this point in time?” My questions are:

  1.  Are we, as educators, being just as objective when deciding the materials which are best for our students, in order to progress, as we are when we are analyzing the data?
  2.  Are we, as educators, giving our students the materials to build a solid foundation in literacy and then offering them different materials to progress to ultimately become independent thinkers, readers, and responders?
We are not going to meet every child’s need with one set of materials or one program.
teacher reading with a young student
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

When last looking online for different reading programs and materials to help our students progress, I stopped after page 15! The buffet of  reading resources is daunting and can be very confusing, thus creating angst for educators to “pick the right one!” One thing is for sure, we are not going to meet every child’s need with one set of materials or one program. We need to take a hard look at what the materials will provide for our students to progress. There is not a “golden ticket” program, kit, or materials that will fit all students’ needs; focusing on foundational literacy or comprehension skills work will help us more clearly see what we need, and what is needed may already be in our schools or districts! Too many times, we rush to purchase the newest, shiniest, repackaged product that will “Fix Everything”.  I believe before we purchase programs or materials to support our specific data findings, it is vital to inventory the materials and products we currently have in our school/district.  It is not until our current materials are assessed that we should start shopping for the very best materials which will meet the needs of our students!

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention the priority for district and school administrations is to assure their teachers have the proper training on the programs and/or materials which are purchased! Hopefully, training will come from the company where the program and/or materials were purchased.  Proper training is essential and far outweighs even the purchase of the materials. It is a waste of time and money not to have our educators properly trained in order to give our students the very best.

As you have heard many times, “One size does not fit all!”  I implore you to think about your students and their specific needs first.  Purchase materials that are differentiated to meet your students’ needs, with a focus on progression. Being wise consumers and looking at multiple data points, through analysis of foundational literacy and comprehension skills, will help our students achieve progression in English Language Arts as well as becoming deeper thinkers, readers, and responders in literacy.


  • Anna Spoerle Cook has 35 years of experience in Indianapolis schools from elementary teacher to the coordinator of K-8 Literacy, High Ability, and English Language Learners, to building and district administration. Anna has spoken about literacy to national and international audiences with her goal being to ignite the spark, in everyone, to become enthusiastic learners and teachers of literacy.

Send this to a friend